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Quake: Urgent support plea for people with mental illness

Urgent support plea for people and families with mental health illness in wake of earthquake

Urgent support needs to go out to Christchurch people with a mental health illness in the wake of last month's devastating earthquake, Supporting Families in Mental Illness New Zealand (SFNZ) spokesman Jim Crowe said today.

Next week is Schizophrenia Awareness Week, from March 14 to 20, and Crowe said so many Christchurch people would be struggling after the February 22 earthquake.

``Mental illness affects one in five New Zealanders and the public should be tolerant and understanding if they come across a person with a mental illness.

``They find it hard enough to deal with everyday challenges but now having to cope with this Christchurch earthquake and its consequences may now have a greater impact affect on their everyday lives as well. The community needs to remember that those with a mental illness are people who experience mental illness through no fault of their own making.

``So many families have been affected by the quake and they will be looking to help a family member with mental illness. Families already feeling the impact that mental illness has on them will be hard hit by the damage this earthquake is having on their lives.''

Crowe said people with a mental illness will have significant feelings of lack of security and anxiety which in some cases will cause relapses and unfortunately a return to hospital for treatment. It was a time like this that families and their relative with a mental illness needed community support.

It was important that society paid attention to the social, as well as clinical needs of people in need. Relatives had learned a lot about caring for a family member and they had so much to teach professional care givers. Clinicians should consult with family throughout treatment to improve effectiveness, understanding and empathy, Crowe said.

Family members experienced loss of hopes and expectations for their loved one. They also felt that the relative had has been changed by the illness. Their grief needed to be acknowledged. They need help in coming to terms with both these kinds of loss, he said.

Schizophrenia Awareness Week will be officially launched by Associate Health Minister Jonathan Coleman on March 15.

SFNZ (formerly the Schizophrenia Fellowship) believes being able to recognise early warning signs and access support is key to improving people affected by mental illness. Schizophrenia is an illness that has much stigma and abuse associated with it. As a major mental illness it is feared and surrounded by lots of myths but it is characterised with depression, anxiety and difficulty concentrating and intrusive thoughts

``These are symptoms we can all experience and relate to. So let us not fear schizophrenia but empathise with it. We also know that it is the relationships around us that are important to recovery.


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